We’ve all heard the story of the elephant as described by a group of blind people feeling different parts of its anatomy.

To the person feeling its legs, the elephant is thick, rough and tall like a tree. To the person feeling its tusks, it is smooth, hard and sharp like a bone. To the person feeling its trunk, it is alive, mobile and dexterous.

In many ways, the same story applies to the Maine economy as described by our independent candidates for governor in their various plans for addressing our economic development problems.

For federal technocrat and international attorney Eliot Cutler, the Maine economy is a large, complex problem. Its development is best achieved by breaking it down into its component parts, dissecting each to see how they interrelate, identifying where they are not working properly, thinking carefully about how they should work and formulating a coherent set of steps to resolve the problem and get the system working again.

For Cutler, the central problem is that state government isn’t creating the conditions under which people and businesses will invest.

He would create those conditions by undertaking policies to drive down costs — the costs of electricity, the costs of health care and the costs of government.

He proposes to drive down electricity costs by creating a public power authority that will use “low-cost, tax-exempt financing and public-private partnerships” to build new generation facilities and “sell lower-priced electricity directly to Maine businesses.”

He proposes to drive down the cost of health care by “rewarding consumers’ healthy behavior and paying providers for quality performance and outcomes.”

He proposes to drive down the cost of government by establishing and chairing a commission “to review all state programs and agencies” and, within a year, bring recommendations “to make state government more innovative, more efficient and less costly” to the Legislature for a simple “yes or no vote.”

Together, these proposals constitute the consummate technocratic response — a well-formulated response to a well-defined problem.

For Shawn Moody, the once optimistic, self-confident teenage start-up entrepreneur who became a successful small-business owner, the Maine economy is an unpleasant task put off too long, a junk drawer that just needs to be sorted out.

Solving our economic problems is “not complicated.” We just need to “clear our heads, reset our priorities and get back to work.”

Moody thinks that we have spent too much time and money trying to get businesses to come here and not enough “to take care of the businesses that are already here. ” His economic development goals are to “restore Maine to its basic strengths — agriculture, forestry, and fishing — while embracing emerging business models and alternative energy sources.”

He promises to treat small business in Maine as “an endangered species,” to “conduct exit interviews on businesses that have closed, relocated or downsized” for the purpose of finding ways to “reach out” to similar businesses that may be at risk and to “promote and support the ‘Buy in Maine’ campaigns.”

His only reference to marketing outside the state is a promise to “bolster our marketing and outreach programs that boost tourism.”

Exactly what “take care of,” “embrace” and “bolster” may mean is never quite clear, but the overriding theme of Moody’s document is undoubtedly one of overwhelming confidence in the fundamental good will and exemplary work ethic of Maine people. If just given the example of an enlightened and hard-working leader, Moody seems to say, we will soon be on our feet again and on our way to growth and prosperity.

For Kevin Scott, the founder of an engineering placement service, the Maine economy is a naturally talented but tired and depressed old athlete. It needs a personal trainer and a cheerleader.

For him, economic development is learning from others. “We need,” he says, “to pick up the telephone and reach out to those states that have already made it into the top 20.” If we “understand how they did it,” he assures us, “we don’t have to repeat the mistakes they made.”

As for his own plans, Scott points to improving the business climate and to agriculture. “When we work to improve the business climate in Maine for existing Maine business, our existing businesses will become our best recruiters of new business,” he says. And, “if we produced food locally,” he tells us, “Maine will not just be helping our farmers and their employees, but also our local merchants and ourselves, the consumers.”

How do we achieve these goals? Listen to the people, Scott says. “We have the best and brightest folks right here in Maine. learning from the people we have here now we can integrate their experiences and ideas with those we learn from other successful states.”

So there we have it — the smartest guy in the room perpetually voicing all the answers, the underappreciated, diamond-in-the-rough go-getter and the earnest cheerleader. Do any of these independents have a roadmap for the Maine economy sufficiently compelling to upset our traditional party candidates? We’ll all decide soon.

 

Charles Lawton is senior economist for Planning Decisions, a public policy research firm. He can be reached at:

[email protected]r.com